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A close-up of a woman's face showing discoloration.

Your skin goes through many changes as you get older, and it can be helpful to understand what's in your control and what's out of your hands. Aging is an inevitable physiological process you can't avoid. But lifestyle habits and environmental factors like sun exposure, smoking, poor diet, and air pollution can age your skin, too. All of these factors contribute to hyperpigmentation, a common skin condition that affects people of all races and ethnicities.

If you're wondering what causes hyperpigmentation on your face and body and how to get rid of it, you're in the right place. Read on for a deep dive into hyperpigmentation causes and learn how to treat it so you can put your best face forward—regardless of your age.


What Is Hyperpigmentation?


Hyperpigmentation is a form of skin discoloration caused by an overproduction of melanin, the essential pigment that gives your skin, hair, and eyes their color. Discoloration can appear black, brown, gray, pink, or red in patches of various sizes. Hyperpigmentation can occur anywhere on the face or body.


How Does Hyperpigmentation Occur on a Cellular Level?


A process called melanogenesis is responsible for hyperpigmentation. Melanogenesis defines how pigment-producing cells called melanocytes create melanin in your skin.

In layman's terms, the amount and distribution of melanin in your epidermis, or skin's outer layer, determines your skin color and tone. Increased melanin production and extrinsic stressors that cause inflammation (more on that later) can lead to hyperpigmentation.

Young Women Discoloration


What Are the Types of Hyperpigmentation?


Hyperpigmentation can show up in a few different forms. These include:


Hormonal shifts associated with pregnancy are the leading cause of melasma. Melasma typically appears on the face (known as "pregnancy mask") and stomach.



Sunspots, also called liver spots, are caused by excessive sun exposure over an extended period. They tend to pop up in areas with the most sun exposure, such as your hands, neck, and face.


Post-Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation

The most common cause of PIH is acne, but it can also surface after a cut, burn, or chemical exposure. PIH can affect any skin tone, but it's more prevalent in people with darker complexions.


What Causes Hyperpigmentation on Your Face and Body?


The leading hyperpigmentation causes include:

Sun Exposure

Sun exposure is the leading cause of hyperpigmentation because the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays precipitate melanin production. On one hand, melanin helps protect your skin from damaging UV rays. But too much sun exposure puts melanogenesis into overdrive, leading to hyperpigmentation. Existing dark spots gradually become darker if you don't protect them from the sun, too.

While anyone can develop hyperpigmentation regardless of age, sex, or ethnicity, it's more prevalent in people with dark skin. In addition to having more melanin, this may be because individuals with pigmented skin tend to use sun protection less frequently.



Your skin produces fewer melanocytes as you age, but the ones you retain become more prominent. This means pigment distribution tends to concentrate in one area.



Your hormones can trigger hyperpigmentation, known as melasma or chloasma. This occurs when estrogen and progesterone stimulate an abundance of melanin, especially when you're in the sun. Hormone therapy is another potential cause.


Skin Injury

Any trauma to your skin, such as a cut, burn, or skin condition like acne, can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.


Health Issues

Hyperpigmentation can also indicate a health issue, such as an autoimmune disorder, gastrointestinal problem, or vitamin deficiency. Check with your health care provider to rule out the possibility that your pigmentation issues have a deeper meaning.


What Are the Treatment Options for Hyperpigmentation?


Start with a visit to your Dermatologist to pinpoint the cause of your condition. This can help you treat it more effectively. Treatment options include:

Over-the-Counter Topical Treatments

Look for over-the-counter treatments formulated to brighten and even out skin tone. For example, PCA SKIN's Pigment Gel® Pro harnesses the power of its proprietary SynerPro Complex to target discoloration on all skin types and tones. With regular use, you can expect to see improvement in as little as four weeks.


Sun Protection

Considering that sun exposure is the leading cause of hyperpigmentation, using sunscreen daily is a must—no matter your skin tone. Use a formula with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks UVA and UVB rays like PCA SKIN Sheer Tint Broad Spectrum SPF 45. Remember to reapply at least every two hours.


Laser Treatment

PIH responds particularly well to intense pulsed light (IPL) therapy. This therapy works by using heat to kill off your pigmented cells, fading those stubborn dark spots. Depending on the severity of your hyperpigmentation, you'll probably need at least three treatments to see results.


Professional Peels

If your hyperpigmentation is minimal, your skin can benefit from a light Salicylic Acid peel—especially if you have darker skin. Salicylic Acid has anti-inflammatory properties, so it can be particularly helpful for PIH. When it comes to professional peels, start with a light, targeted formula like PCA SKIN Pigment Correct Peel, which can be administered by a skin care professional. A peel that's too strong could exacerbate your condition.



You can find over-the-counter Retinoids or get a prescription from your Dermatologist. While Retinoids can treat hyperpigmentation by reducing melanin production and supporting skin cell turnover, they also make your skin more sun-sensitive. So, double down on sunscreen and other sun-protective measures to prevent sun damage and increased pigmentation.


An Even Complexion Is Within Reach


Hyperpigmentation is a widespread and common skin condition. If you're unsure how to tackle your dark spots, contact a skin care professional using the PCA SKIN Certified Professional Locator and get the support you need to feel comfortable and confident in your skin.